Online Guide to Ethics and Moral Philosophy

Robert Cavalier

Philosophy Department
Carnegie Mellon

Part I History of Ethics

Preface: The Life of Socrates
Section 1: Greek Moral Philosophy
Section 2: Hellenistic and Roman Ethics
Section 3: Early Christian Ethics
Section 4: Modern Moral Philosophy
Section 5: 20th Century Analytic Moral Philosophy

Part II Concepts and Problems

Preface: Meta-ethics, Normative Ethics and Applied Ethics
Section 1: Ethical Relativism
Section 2: Ethical Egoism
Section 3: Utilitarian Theories
Section 4: Deontological Theories
Section 5: Virtue Ethics
Section 6: Liberal Rights and Communitarian Theories
Section 7: Ethics of Care
Section 8: Case-based Moral Reasoning
Section 9: Moral Pluralism

Part III Applied Ethics

Preface: The Field of Applied Ethics
Section 1: The Topic of Euthanasia
Multimedia Module: A Right to Die? The Dax Cowart Case
Section 2: The Topic of Abortion
Multimedia Module: The Issue of Abortion in America
Postscript: Conflict Resolution

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The Story of the Madman

This selection from Joyful Wisdom is Nietzsche's reflection on 'the experience of the death of God.' It is N.'s existential deconstruction of the God-Idea.

The Madman. -- Have you ever heard of the madman who on a bright morning lighted a lantern and ran to the market-place calling out unceasingly: " I seek God! I seek God! " -- As there were many people standing about who did not believe in God, he caused a great deal of amusement. Why! is he lost? said one. Has he strayed away like a child? said another. Or does he keep himself hidden? Is he afraid of us? Has he taken a sea voyage? Has he emigrated? -- the people cried out laughingly, all in a hubbub. The insane man jumped into their midst and transfixed them with his glances. " Where is God gone? " he called out. " I mean to tell you! We have killed him, -- you and I! We are all his murderers! But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it now move? Whither do we move? Away from all suns? Do we not dash on unceasingly? backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? Do we not stray, as through infinite nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker? Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning? Do we not hear the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God? Do we not smell the divine putrefaction: -- for even Gods putrefy? God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers? The holiest and the mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed, has bled to death under our knife,-- who will wipe the blood from us? With what water could we cleanse ourselves? What lustrums, what sacred games shall we have to devise? Is not the magnitude of this deed too great for us? Shall we not ourselves have to become Gods, merely to seem worthy of it? There never was a greater event,-- and on account of it, all who are born after us belong to a higher history than any history hitherto! -- Here the madman was silent and looked again at his hearers; they also were silent and looked at him in surprise. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, so that it broke in pieces and was extinguished. "I come too early," he then said, "I am not yet at the right time. This prodigious event is still on its way, and is traveling, -- it has not yet reached men's ears. Lightning and thunder need time, the light of the stars needs time, deeds need time, even after they are done, to be seen and heard. This deed is as yet further from them than the furthest star,-- and yet they have done it!" -- It is further stated that the madman made his way into different churches on the same day, and there intoned his Requiem aeternam deo. When led out and called to account, he always gave the reply: "What are these churches now, if they are not the tombs and monuments of God?"
Outline of an Analysis:

1. The madman announces the death of God

    The madman announces the "death of God" to ATHEISTS incapable of UNDERSTANDING the significance of the event -- yet THEY THEMSELVES DID IT.

    How could this be?

    Because they have FAILED TO EXPERIENCE the death of God, FAILED TO UNDERSTAND THE MEANING OF THE DEATH OF GOD (it is NOT a matter of 'refutation' or mere belief/unbelief).

2. One experiences God as a lie

    This is bound up with the idea of GOD AS TRUTH ("I am the Truth," the "true world" is the other world, etc.) and the CHRISTIAN MORAL IDEAL (CMI) as VALUING TRUTH.

    For Nietzsche, this indicates that TRUTHFULNESS is bound up with both THE IDEAL and THE DESTRUCTION OF THE IDEAL: It is out of a sense of TRUTHFULNESS that one uncovers GOD AS A LIE (cf. Will to Power, Preface 4, BK I 1,3).


3. The hidden character of the self-negation

    How could something that 'negates itself' PERSIST? -- Only if this character of self-negation LAY HIDDEN (though not completely).

    Nietzsche believed that the CMI contained an INNER LOGIC. It is through this "inner logic of decadence" that the self-negating character of the God-Idea will unfold and eventually become recognized. This is a HISTORICAL PROCESS.

    Granting that the self-negating character of the CMI (GOD) is presently unfolding itself --

      a. WHAT, precisely, is the CHARACTER OF THIS NEGATIVITY that is inherently and essentially involved in the idea of God?

      b. And HOW, more precisely, has this idea of God RECOILED AGAINST ITSELF (committed suicide)?

4. The CMI as a value

    For Nietzsche, the CMI is essentially a VALUE and values are POSITED -- projected by human beings as "will to power" -- for the PRESERVATION and ENHANCEMENT of LIFE (a horizon in which life becomes livable).

    Thus the CMI (GOD) was essentially and initially an AFFIRMATIVE PROJECTION which aimed at making life 'livable.' But, nota bene, this very PROJECTION INVOLVES a SELF-CONTRADICTION because THE CONCEPT OF GOD, for Nietzsche, involves THE NEGATION OF LIFE...

    This is the logic: AS A PROJECTION FOR THE AFFIRMATION OF LIFE THE CMI NEGATES LIFE -- it condems the ground (i.e., life) from which it was erected. One's attention is turned toward THE AFTERLIFE -- "This life" becomes an objection, something to be negated and transcended.

    Hence THE CMI REFLECTS UPON LIFE IN SUCH A WAY AS TO NEGATE LIFE (and this "logic of decadence" is now being seen, for Nietzsche, in the European 'nihilism' of the 19th Century).

5. The phenomenon of Resentment

    Thus (a) the character of God's negativity is the negation of life and (b) the paradox is that it arose, qua value, as a way to make life livable -- this inconsistency is now unfolding.

    But, granting this, how is it possible for such an ideal to arise in the first place?

    Because, at bottom, the idea of God is the outgrowth of a general ATTITUDE TOWARD LIFE -- an attitude which Nietzsche characterizes as RESENTMENT. A resentment to life and its sufferings: this attitude DEMANDS A REASON for life and that which is questionable in life.

    It finds this reason ('justification') in an AFTERLIFE which will reward and compensate. Thus the VALUE of the God-Idea is posited through a RESENTMENT TO LIFE, a "No-Saying" to this life which seeks a replacement of this life with an after-life (a 'better life').

6. A counter value: Dionysus vs. the Crucified

    The CONTRAST here is between a YES-SAYING to life (in both its joys and sorrows) or a NO-SAYING to Life (in favor of a 'life after death').

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Copyright 2002 (first published 1/96)